Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Traffic and more ……… For those of us who take for granted the orderly world we live in it is time we think again. Our world of crossing the road on a green walk sign with very minimal risk of being squashed is not how the rest of the world functions. This sideline is dedicated to traffic from a pedestrian perspective and the various modes of transport as we travel.
As I am always adding to this page it is best read from bottom to top. I have arranged it so the bottom of the page is the first entry of where we started.
We arrived in the evening and went get the bus to town only problem the current protests meant no buses to our location. So off to the metro we went instead. A couple of transfers and 40 minutes later we arrived to the protestors and a greeting from Mike.
After checking in to the smallest room in the world we went out for drinks. A week of local buses, metro rides and ferries and we had seen lots more of Hong Kong and had a great catch up. The one sad thing was no tram rides due to the protestors but we got to walk many streets that were now devoid of traffic thanks to the protests. This was a very eerie experience a bit like a bad horror movie as you walk through deserted streets waiting for something bad to happen.
We flew out of here for an overnight stay in Kuala Lumpur then a flight to Penang.
Overnight stay in our usual Tune hotel and then a flight to Hong Kong to catch up with Mike and Patricia.
Did I mention scams before. I had arranged for a hotel near the airport as we were flying out early in the morning. I had also arranged the hotel to pick us up. The driver picked us up but we were almost dropped off at one place then taken to another. The hotel was not the place I booked but I was told it was owned by the same people. The room was ok but the clincher was that the wifi did not work. On enquiry I was told that they were waiting for someone to repair it and was told it would be a few hours. Now no one every wants to be stuck in a hotel with Richard and no wifi, I also started to smell a rat.
Fortunately I had a local sim with data. On checking out the details of the two hotels I found that our current location was $10 a night cheaper and had a lower rating. I called my booking company who said they would investigate, I then called the other hotel and demanded they send a car to take us to the correct hotel. We packed up and waited out front where a car was summoned and we were taken to the correct hotel, the one the driver initially tried to drop us off at but was told to take us elsewhere. The people at the desk looked rather sheepish but didn’t even bother to apologise or say anything just pretended nothing happened. Needless to say this hotel was a little better than the last one and the wifi worked.
The next morning we left and as a token gesture the hotel paid for our taxi to the airport. We headed to Kuala Lumpur initially we had a 6 hour layover but our original flight was cancelled so we were now overnighting at Kuala Lumpur airport.
Rather than an overpriced taxi ride we walked to our hotel. A swisher place than usual, amazing what $25 a night gets you. Hoi An is very touristy. The usual hawkers and touts. We walked the streets, swam in the pool and enjoyed the local food.
Vietnam is not really our cup of tea or in the case of my husband, coffee. The touts and hawkers are in your face, you constantly have to be on guard for scams and rip offs and they over cater to the tourists. This is a great place for a holiday but not really to travel.
We left here by car for the airport in Da Nang and a flight back to Hanoi for an overnight stay.
A quick taxi ride to our accommodation and a lot of walking and we managed to cover the city with minimal problems. A short bus ride and we were in Hoi An.
Cat Ba is a little more challenging to get to. A taxi to the bus station, a bus to Haiphong, another bus to the ferry terminal, a ferry to the island and a bus to Cat Ba town. All was fine til a loudmouth group of Americans and their ridiculous amount of luggage joined us. This made for a very noisy trip and lots of extra time waiting for them to load and unload their luggage. Fortunately we do not stay in places they would frequent so after leaving the bus to walk to our accommodation we hoped never to see them again.
We hired bikes here for a great day riding across the island and also went on a day cruise through the bay. I wanted to go kayaking but my husband informed me he had no sense of balance and would capsize. I told him this was rubbish and the kayaks of today are lite weight, easy to paddle and use. Boy was I wrong. My husband has no sense of balance and I never wish to be in a kayak or a canoe with him again.
Richard did not wish to repeat our journey of getting here but unfortunately we had to return to Hanoi somehow. We took a different company and the trip was much improved and much less crowded. From Hanoi we took a flight to Da Nang.
After a quick flight and a taxi ride into town we arrived in Hanoi. We were right near the old quarter, tourist central. After much walking and exploring we left here for Cat Ba.
After a quick flight and a short shared taxi ride we arrived at our accommodation, lovely beach bungalow. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain. One day later it cleared to blue skies and we began a little beach break.
We hired bikes and toured the island, my husband occasionally behaving like an idiot but we survived. This place is about to be besieged by several 5 star hotels which will really spoil this area. It is already struggling with rubbish and the once pristine beaches are littered.
We flew out of here for Hanoi.
A few hours in a bus than an overpriced taxi ride we reached our accommodation, the smallest room since Hong Kong. This place was all about the floating market. A lovely boat ride and we saw two markets and a rice paper/vermicelli factory. Our boat driver was very talented in pineapple leaf art.
This was really a nothing town but still fun to roam and explore. We flew out of here for Phuo Quoc
Ho Chi Minh
After flying into Ho Chi Minh we took a taxi into town and our accommodation. Our room was not ready so we deposited our luggage and heady off to explore and have a few beers. A few hours later after the constant hassle from street vendors we relaxed in our room. The usual Asian room.
The next few days we wandered the streets exploring the old colonial buildings and the museums. Vietnam is a country that rumbles thanks to the large number of motorbikes. Unlike China they have not embraced the ninja bike probably do to the power issues. The roar is ever present with bikes and taxis jostling for position.
We were staying in the seedy red light district and I took great delight in walking a distance behind Richard as the locals touted for business, I laughed a lot. We took a bus from here to Can Tho.
Vietnam has become a service culture and they really pander to the tourists. So much so they pick you up from your accommodation and personally escort you to your bus. A bit much for independent travellers but great for those with little experience.
From train to metro then a short walk to our Beijing accommodation. Back to the crazy traffic and pollution for our final days in China. We caught up with Richard’s cousin and even got in another Great Wall trip. Lots of Metro rides and lots of street food later and it was time to fly out. We were off to Vietnam after the usual Kuala Lumpur stop over.
The fast train ride placed us in Shanhaiguan for one purpose to see the Great Wall head into the sea. You have to love China trains just under 1000 km in 5 hours. This train station is down a back alley and we unfortunately walked the wrong way which led to a 5 km walk to our hotel.
After arriving to a lovely hotel in the middle of nowhere we relaxed and the next morning caught the local bus to the wall. This is a tourist site and probably the most crowded part of the wall we have been to. We were very disappointed as it had been blinged out by the Chinese and was a definite cheesy tourist sideshow. A walk on the beach and we departed for another local bus to town.
We walked through the walled city which was very touristy and poorly done and then headed out the other side through the countryside. After quite a long walk which was worthwhile thanks to the bits of the wall we found in the local paddocks we arrived at the first pass. Although a little overdone by the Chinese and full of Russians this was an amazing climb. It included ladders and lots of stairs. From here we caught a local bus back to town then on to our hotel.
We left Shanhaiguan by fast train for the couple of hour ride to Beijing.
Another bus from the airport dropping us off at the start of the peoples mall for a short walk to our accommodation. This city is a lovely mix of Chinese and Russian. The city is best remembered for its winter festival but is still very beautiful in summer. Harbin is the home of Harbin beer the malls and river walk are littered with beer halls.
We walked the mall and both sides of the river including a cable car ride across the river from platforms designed like medieval castles. The walk even involved an interview by the local uni students. There was also some very lovely garden art and a funky Russian village.
We flew in got out of the airport and jumped on the Maglev. This is the fastest train in China at 431km/hr, we took our quick 8-10 minute trip hopped off for a quick lunch and back on again to return to the airport.
We flew out to Harbin a few hours later.
Arriving at the airport we took a bus into town. I had directions once we arrived but they proved a little hard to follow but after a while we figured it out and landed at our accommodation down the usual back street. The usual tiny Asian room and even smaller bathroom with over the toilet shower. Koreans are lovely, polite and very helpful. Seoul is very western, more western than we have seen in a long time. Every second shop is a coffee shop and every other one sells cosmetics. These guys spend a lot of time primping and preening.
The scary part for us is that road rules apply, they stop at crossings and obey red lights, way to civilised for us. The public transport system is fantastic. A great metro followed up by a great bus network and taxis that use meters. Unfortunately this place is expensive on par with most western countries.
Much walking and a few metro trips and we were done in Seoul so we headed to the DMZ on a daytrip. This place was very removed from our Datong trip to the other border. This place is obsessed with the division of their country and reunification. Driving along the road it is all security posts and razor wire.
There is even a train station and lines built in the last few years to reunite the two countries and provide rail access for trade but apparently the Northern Korean leader said no at the last minute so now it is a giant white elephant turned into a tourist attraction.
I do love their approach to apologising for road construction (see photo of sign) so very polite.
From here we took a bus to the airport and flew back to China to commence our last leg of China. Now we could have flown straight to Harbin but as we missed the Maglev in Shanghai the first time for the same cost we could fly to Shanghai for a few hour stopover, ride the Maglev then continue to Harbin, so why not.
6 hours later after listening to the fish wife ticket collector and the bus driver yell out the window or over the loud speaker along the streets and every bus stop we passed ‘Dandong, Dandong, Dandong’. This resulted in extra people crammed into the aisle of the bus sitting on upturned buckets and anything else passing for a temporary seat. Every time the bus stopped to pick up the extra people passengers would jump off to pee in the bushes resulting in the driver honking and yelling at them. Not a fun trip.
Arriving in the rain we hopped a cab for the 800 metre ride to our hotel, good thing really as this was another of this hotels where the booking name was different to the name on the door. You see the booking name was ‘Dandong Chang Cheng Hotel’ but the name on the door was the ‘Great Wall Hotel’ but I worked out Chang Cheng is Great Wall in Chinese. Just another level of intrigue to finding your accommodation.
Because we were here for just a short time off exploring we went. It was raining but not too bad, eventually it became a torrential down pour. By the time we went to the river, had dinner then went back to our hotel we were very drowned, Chinese drainage does not cope with heavy rain.
The next day we headed to the bus station to get a ticket back to Dalian for the next day and a ticket to the Great Wall section nearby. We piled on to our bus which took us through villages and corn fields to the Tiger Mountain Great Wall entrance where they quickly shoved us out. This section of the wall is very close to the North Korean border and also quite steep. After roaming around we jumped on a bus going back to Dalian then decided we should go back to the river and the bridges to get better photos.
The next morning we walked back to the bus station praying for a better ride back to Dalian. We got our wish 3.5 hours later we were let off in the chaos of Dalian’s train station to try and get a cab to our accommodation in the new section of the city near to Beer Festival.
Dalian Part One
The first time into Dalian saw us in the old section in a hostel near a nightly food street and a short bus ride to the main square. This section of town has great food streets, coffee shops, Russia buildings and the bits we love about China. Dalian also has trams and electric buses.
From here I had to get bus tickets to Dandong. Now Chinese bus stations are not as easy to navigate or find as Chinese train stations. They have a tendency to be hidden down alleys or different bus stations go to different places. Dalian was no different after one false start when the hostel sent me to one of the old train stations which is now a metro station to look for a ticket office we headed to where I thought it might be. Bingo, after some help from the locals as the ticket office was hidden down a dodgy alley, we had tickets for the next day and bonus knew where to go.
Tickets organised we headed off to be tourists thru town and then tried to catch a bus back to the hostel but it was so crowded we had to get off and walk the last two kilometres or die from heat stroke and suffocation in the bus. Bright and early the next morning we hopped the local bus to the bus station in the rain for our 4.5 hour ride to Dandong.
One of the highlights of this place was a chance to catch up with Heath, a great Chinese boy we met in Shangri-La and have been chatting with as we travel through China. We were staying across the road from the train station at one of my favourite Chinese hotel chains, Hanting Express.
Heath met up with us and took us all over Jinan, life is so much easier when you are with someone who speaks Chinese. We caught taxis, walked and took local buses. The highlight was the luge ride down the Buddha mountain after climbing lots of stairs, well I climbed all the stairs Richard flaked out half way as usual but it was very hot and sticky.
The real reason we were in Jinan was that Richard wanted to go to Taishan the last of the places on the Chinese money. Taishan is a short train ride from Jinan. Taishan is a mountain with a temple on the top which the Chinese treat as a pilgrimage. It is over 3000 steps to the half-way point called ‘Half way to Heaven’ from there you can either keep climbing or take a chairlift to the top. The day we went was very foggy/smoggy, hot and humid. Richard made it to a little under a quarter of the way but still over 1500 stairs which was a fantastic effort considering he hates stairs. I made it to ‘Half way to Heaven’ which took about 2 hours of stair climbing with occasional stops to drink plenty of liquid. As we had set out late I didn’t have time to climb the rest and taking the cable car was pointless as you couldn’t see anything, so back I went to find my husband. After finding him shirt off relaxing on a rock under a tree entertaining the Chinese walking by, we both headed back down the mountain to find our bus to the train station and get a train ticket back to Jinan.
We flew out of Jinan to Dalian.
After a walk up the hill and much complaining from Richard both due to the walk and the heat and humidity we reached our Hostel. After discarding our bags we settled in for dinner and beer on the roof top in the breeze. The next challenge would be getting Richard up and down the hill every day, he hates stairs.
Qingdao is on the coast not that you would know it because for most of our visit you were lucky to see 10 metres in front of you due to the fog/smog Beijing style. We caught local buses and walked most of the time, lots of hills and stairs mixed with the heat and humidity was not to Richards liking.
Qingdao has tiny tree lined streets complete with washing lines this meant not only the usually crazy street navigation but the risk of decapitation or attack by hanging clothes.
We took a fast train out of here to Jinan, first class tickets in quiet luxury, very much appreciated.
This place is supposed to be the quintessential Chinese walled city. In reality it is the least fake of what is available. We took an electric cart from the station the experience qualifying that the external part of the city is terrible and the inside while fake is a lot less depressing but expensive.
They have put up barriers to stop the traffic but the Chinese just lift their electric scooters over the top and keep on going. Pedestrians are a bother and have no rights but no matter how much they beep Richard and I are never swayed to move faster or get out of the way unless we are so inclined. If spoken at we just shrug our shoulders and continue on our way. We don’t understand Chinese so yelling at us has no impact, poor things.
The wall was a good walk but unfortunately you couldn’t go all the way around due to construction. It is the first wall that isn’t square but has curves following the lay of the land. There is the usual fake bits but not as bad as Datong and Xian.
We took a minibus to Mianshan traversing the terrible roads and playing chicken with coal trucks. Once inside you travel the provided buses squashed on small roads hanging on a cliff. Lots of great stairs and temples for me and a chairlift for Richard.
We took an early train out of Pingyao to Taiyuan and after being unable to locate the bus stop for the 201 bus we took a taxi to the airport for a flight to Qingdao. The flight turned into a dilemma with neither us being very happy. Richard likes to sit on an aisle seat and I like a window our usual combination is a and c. I did my usual navigation of China Southern’s difficult website to achieve allocating our preferred seating but when we got to the check-in desk the lovely Chinese guy reallocated our seats to a and b making me very unhappy. He then redid them but Richard was 17 rows back, not happy. He told us we could ask to change when we boarded, such an easy thing for people who don’t speak Chinese.
We took the shuttle from the airport to near our hostel. The ride was complete with vomiting passengers and children peeing on the floor.
While the bus was bigger and we all had a seat, Richard’s seat was broken and keep reclining by its self every 20 minutes. He seems to have no luck in buses. We arrived in Taiyuan just 3 km from our hotel but it may as well have been 50 km with all the roadworks. This is the bit you never know, how much construction is being done in the next town?
Taiyuan is basically redoing its train station and all the roads around it. I try to give Chinese taxi drivers the benefit of the doubt most of the time because they are usually fair and use their meters. The driver from the bus station was taking a real roundabout way of getting us there and nearly incurred my wrath until I saw the construction. What was a 3km 5 to 10 minute trip took 45 minutes and at one stage we were 6 km from our hotel. Not to complain it only cost about $6.
Our hotel was lovely and after the last place with a really stinky ‘I will not shower here” bathroom we were both in need of a good shower and scrub but first the museum. Catching a local bus is a little more challenging in Taiyuan with all the construction as bus stops have been moved and are not very well sign posted. We found a bus and went across the river and after a 10 minute walk located the Museum. This was an ok Museum but not the usual stunner we have seen. The building looks like an upside down pyramid. The best part was a side exhibit in a separate building of minority culture in particular their clothing and the billiard hall we discovered under the bridge on the way home. This is what always amazes us and one of the reasons I love walking the streets because you never know what gem you will discover.
We took a train out of here amongst the construction and chaos to Pingyao. This was another of those packed trains with lots of standing room only tickets sold but a little more comfortable than the last one.
We arrived at the bus station in Datong for our bus to Wutaishan, I had prepurchased seats and went to the ticket office to get print outs. The lady at the counter looked worried and yelled at a man in uniform who ushered us through to the waiting area motioning us to a stop to stand. After much discussion with many he raced off and found a young girl with a smattering of English who attempted to fuss over us. We told her we were fine and didn’t need anything. We asked what the issue was but she didn’t know.
Eventually a lovely primary school teacher with ok English took us under her wing explaining her and her family were on the same bus. 45 minutes before the bus was to leave, thank god we are usually really early, we were ushered into a 9 seater minivan, all 10 of us plus luggage with an explanation that the Datong bus had broken down and the van would take us to a bigger bus for Datong. About 30 minutes into our journey the lovely Primary School teacher explained that the driver had just been notified he was taking us to Datong in the minivan. Fortunately Richard was fairly comfortable in his seat and had plenty of leg room so he was not to upset. On the narrow bad mountain roads I was glad for the minivan especially when it started to rain, unfortunately the story got a little worse.
On arriving into the scenic area with about an hour to go we were told we would be transferring to another bus for the rest of the journey. No bus but a 7 seater minivan, Chinese size, for the 10 of us plus luggage. I ended up in the back with 3 others and Richard ended up in the jump seat in the middle row but with my big backpack between his legs because it wouldn’t fit anywhere else. I had to but my small backpack in the back on top of Richard’s bag and nurse his daypack. So off we went trundling down the mountain in the pouring rain with steam coming out of Richard’s ears. 15 minutes into the journey the back door flew open and my small backpack with laptop, phone and Kindle rolled out the door and down the road towards the oncoming traffic causing me to squeal. All traffic came to a screeching halt and my bag was retrieved. To prevent this happening again Richard ended up with his big bag on his lap and I had my small backpack on my lap. 45 minutes later we reached the bus station and the lovely Teacher got the minivan driver to take us to our hostel, which was good because it was not called anything like what was on hostel world. To top it all off two doors down from the hostel someone had set up Karaoke, really loud, which did not finish until midnight and started again at out 8 am. Richard was a very unhappy campier. By some miracle my laptop, phone and kindle came out without any major problems.
After a not so auspicious start we went exploring on day 2. We walked, caught the chair lift and ignored the free buses that travel up and down the mountains. There are 46 temples here but we really came for the scenery. The terraces on the drive in were spectacular and for the next two days we had lovely sunny weather to stare at the amazing views. Friday came and the place started to go crazy as everyone was arriving for the weekend. We were out on the first bus Saturday morning at 630am to Taiyuan hoping for a better ride than last time.
A daytime train saw us in Datong. Richard did not enjoy the ride as the Chinese sell standing room so the train was very crowded with up to 5 people on a seat for 3 not to mention the extra luggage. This mixed with the spitting, smoking, yelling, spruiking and singing drove him a little crazy. We caught a local bus toward our hotel, ran some errands then caught a taxi the rest of the way. We were staying in the middle of old town.
This city was another one deciding to utilise the sidewalk as a parking lot. The city is in the middle of a major rebuild. It has almost completed the walls apparently using a French guys old photos as a guide. We managed to get a shot of the old mud wall, the brown bricks and the new Ming bricks surrounding it all. They have finished most of the outer but still have a lot the do. Walking the walls gave us a great view of the old cities layout. Did I mention the moat under constriction surrounded by a huge park, only in China. I found the best little electric car and it came in pink.
We arranged a trip to the Monastery and the Caves which involved most of the day in a minibus avoiding trucks, donkey carts, sheep and cows. At one stage I thought I was back in India with a 20km stretch of two two lane roads side by side but I think it was a service road that the locals treat as part of the highway and zip from side to side on as the mood takes them. Did I mention the huge coal trucks doing the same thing. This mixed with the poor roads and the constant need to stop at every T junction because the locals don’t look as they pull out made for a crazy journey.
I am constantly reminding Richard that in China road rules including crossings, the direction of the traffic and lights are just a guide. This was made more obvious one evening when we were crossing the road on a green walk sign and were honked by the cars driving straight ahead through the red light toward us. It took 25 seconds after the red light for the traffic to bother to stop and I swear it was only because we were westerners.
We took a bus out of here to Wutaishan.
After a sleepless night thanks to the Chinese man in our cabin who snored very loudly we arrived in Hohhot and took a local bus to out hostel, plus a small walk. Again living down an alley.
Hohhot has no Metro or BRT just lots of buses. Our hostel had a great cheat sheet for this so we took advantage and travelled all over town on the bus. The buses are numerous but in poor repair and old but not too uncomfortable.
The museum is a spectacular building, the mosque is not the building you think (it is not the white one but the brick one beside it), the buildings look like they have yurts on the top and it is not as clean or remodelled as most Chinese cities. The museum had an outstanding way for the workers to get around and polish the floor. It also has a fantastic dinosaur, space and Mongolian display. There are no sidewalks and Inner Mongolians cannot drive, the traffic is a disaster despite the Police. The train station was a diabolical mess of cars, buses, rickshaws, pedestrians and carts. At least our street became a great restaurant strip after 6pm.
This was an overnight train ride which was the usual except after a few beers and dinner in the Lanzhou food street prior are outlook was a little rosier. Yinchuan was a break the journey town with an extra day due to difficulty getting a sleeper to Hohhot.
Our hotel and our location was spectacular. We walked and rose the local bus back and forth exploring. This was another place where sidewalks are not for pedestrians but are parking lots or bike paths (beware the ninja bike) making walking a constant obstacle course. Bell and Drum Towers have become roundabout decorations.
We did spot a lovely old car, girls feeding fish with a babies bottle on a stick and a Rolls in the Chinese version of Costco, found will on a local bus expedition. The museum was outstanding especially the Mao buttons and red books.
We left taking the local bus to the train station and an overnight train to Hohhot.
This place is all about the caves and sand dunes. Richard hates camels so I was unable to convince him that another ride into the desert was in order even though these ones have two humps. Dunhuang is a very enjoyable city with great food options.
We took the local bus to the caves which were a bit of a disappointment but a great example of how an historic site can be so easily destroyed. Between a well meaning monk, foreign explorers and using the site as a prison for white Russians there is little left. The two hour English tour was very good though. Dunhuang also has the largest walk signs I have ever seen in China, no knowledge as to why they are just huge.
Dunhuang for us was more about the food and company particularly the two Australian cyclists who we spent great times and a few beers with. From here we flew back to Lanzhou spent the night at the airport and then headed to the city via a shuttle. We had another train ride out of Lanzhou to Yinchuan.
Jiayuguan was one of the first cities marked for tourism remodelling. It has huge planned roads and bikes lanes as well as a good local bus network. We travelled the local buses to the plastic Great Wall of Jiayuguan Fort and the Overhanging Great Wall. The trip was not a total loss as the before and after posters (see Sidelines) and the Museum was worth it.
After much yelling about our terrible hotel and it’s woeful service we departed in the early hours of the morning by train to Dunhuang. The next few train trips were a little troubling as this route sells out very quickly leaving only hard seats which Richard is not a fan of. These days I am no stranger to getting tickets but the next few legs worried me. After a little research I discovered Ethel from China Highlights who unlike other sites does not charge 50 to 100 Yuan per ticket to organise bookings and you can pick up your tickets at the train station. Ethel only charges 10 to 15 Yuan per ticket and the China Highlight site lets you see the number of available tickets and type. I managed to book the next few legs with ease. You still have to line up at the window but all the hard work of which train and seat or sleeper selection is predone.
Our soft sleepers to Dunhuang were not in the same compartment but in the same carriage. Richard ended up with 3 other guys snoring away while I ended up with a carriage all to myself for the 5 hour journey. We had managed a pick up from the train station so all was great as we arrived into Dunhuang.
The bus was more comfortable than the last one and the ride was all on bitumen. The most interesting part of this ride was watching the change in buildings and people as you crossed under the old Tibetan boarder gate and back into China. This saw the Tibetan buildings give way to Chinese buildings and for this section of China many, many Mosques. The Muslim influence continued until reaching Lanzhou.
Lanzhou bus station saw us greeted by overpriced taxi drivers who may have been a little shocked when we and our two companions turned and took a local bus for 1 Yuan each rather than the 50 Yuan they wanted to charge. Google maps bus section can be so handy at times. The local bus ride was cheap but not very comfortable but saw us arrive 45 minutes later near our hotel. We were getting a train out so I had us near the train station 5 minutes’ walk from the food street.
Lanzhou has great local buses and we explored the city easily visiting the river and “beach”. This city is in desperate need of a metro to help curb the crazy traffic. We caught a train out of here to Jiayuguan on a quest to explore more parts of the Great Wall.
After 5 days of relaxation with Richard barely leaving the recliner chair and the TV I coaxed him onto a bus to Xiahe for 7 hours. The bus could best be described as a Deluxe Chicken Bus in which Richard did not fit and had to sit sideways. We were doing really well until the last 50km when the bus stopped at the start of the road works and several men piled out including some monks. The guys then proceeded to move rocks and shovel dirt to build a ramp so the bus could proceed down the road. The next 50 km became a slow crawl over corrugated and rock roads not dissimilar to Tibet. I cannot describe the expression on Richard’s face which proceeded to get more and more scary as we went on. After almost 3 hours of very rough road we finally reached bitumen and completed our journey. Despite the terrible ride the trip had given us spectacular views of the grasslands, yaks, goats, sheep, walled villages, temples and yurts.
Xiahe is tiny but has the worst horn honking problem in China. The wide roads do nothing to prevent the overuse of loud horns. This place has no local bus but the taxis will take you anywhere up the main drag for 1 Yuan for a one way trip. There are monks everywhere here more so than in Lhasa and Shigatse. The monastery is like the rest of china “under construction” but it is a spectacular site to explore.
After 3 days here Richard took a lot of convincing to get back on a bus to go to Lanzhou.
So far the roads were not great but they were tarmac. We hit the last 75 km late in the afternoon and the fun began. Heavily corrugated or rock roads for 3 or more hours is not what either Richard or myself envisaged. All I could thing was ‘we had to do it all in reverse tomorrow’. On we trundled both on and off the almost existent road catching small glimpses of Mt Everest until we reached base camp 11 hours after commencing our journey that morning.
We slept in tents a bit like yurts for the night. The bathroom was either a tin building with a wooden floor that had badly cut holes in it as makeshift toilet spots, no lights or water and a smell that could not be described or you could wander the paddock or river bed and locate a convenient spot avoiding those before you.
We woke to sunrise over Mt Everest, breakfast and a 6 km bus ride to the photo spot. We piled into buses, got out and took pictures then bussed back to camp. After packing and a cup of coffee we piled into the minivan for the 11 hour reverse journey back to Shigatse avoiding the crazy four wheel drivers, yaks, goats and sheep.
After a night in Shigatse we drove the short road and 6 hours back to Lhasa. One more night in Lhasa before we headed to the train for another 24 hour ride to Xining. This time they made us wait in the VIP waiting area all on our own and board the train before anyone else. Richard loved it.
We headed for Shigatse. Travelling by road in Tibet is like being in a rally race. There are several checkpoints between places. You arrive at the checkpoint and you are given a time to reach the next checkpoint. Our first checkpoint gave us 90 minutes to do 50 km on a very good road. There are fines of about 3000 RMB or about 500 to 600 AUD if you get there early. This is all to do with apparent safety on the roads. In reality everyone drives at whatever speed they want and then stop for whatever the required amount of time is at roadside stalls, defeating the purpose.
We took the long road in dodging yaks, sheep and goats. The local transport appears to be a modified rotary hoe with a trailer. The trip to Shigatse took over 12 hours including some crazy road works. The one thing we did learn is that a Tibetan witches hat is a rock painted red.
After a very long drive in cramped conditions we reached Shigatse and our hotel. The hotel was ok except for the smoke and incense which made Richards life a little difficult. After some sleep we had breakfast and set off for a local Monastery. After climbing all over the place, chasing some sheep, looking at local stalls and watching the horsemen ride by our guide showed up with our Mt Everest permits. We then set off for the rally drive to base camp.
After being scanned and producing copies of our permits several times we were off on out train journey through Qinghai and Tibet provinces. The railway rises to 5072 metres with 80% of the Golmud to Lhasa stretch being over 4000 metres. The train however is pumped full of oxygen from 3700 metres and above. Unfortunately the oxygen is offset by the chain smoking Chinese and the offensive toilets. The scenery was spectacular including the snow.
In Tibet all foreigners need to have a guide so we were to be part of a tour, something the two of us generally are not fans of. We had a small amount of information about our trip but I can say for certain that if Richard knew what it all involved he would not have gone along with it.
Lhasa has a population of around 500,000 with everything centring on the Potala Palace. This place is small enough to still allow tractors and trailers as everyday transport around town. Two days were spent here roaming the streets, looking at brightly painted cycle rickshaws and watching the Tibetans navigate temples.
I did venture to the local pool/spa with Cindy, a member of our tour who was Chinese currently living in Canada. The pool was a fascinating experience, Western women obviously do not frequent such spots. After an hour of swimming while constantly being stared at which fascinated Cindy as she had never experienced it before we had a wet and dry sauna before showering off to leave. During my shower the fascination continued as I turned around to three young girls standing and staring as I showered and dressed.
After two days in Lhasa we hoped into our 9 seater minivan all 9 of us for what was to be a very long but beautiful journey.
We flew to Xining for a one night stop over before boarding our 24 hour train to Lhasa, Tibet. We returned again post our Tibet adventure for a rest. Tibet took its toll on Richard for 4 days of R & R was required in Xining. We stayed at a lovely Hostel/Homestay near the Mosque, markets and a coffee shop. Western who ran the hostel took great care of us. Richard spent days in a soft reclining chair catching up on movies, eating and breathing.
The hills around Xining are currently undergoing the largest transformation I have ever seen. Chinese are planting and irrigating trees up and down every barren hill on a grand scale. You can imagine that In 10 years this place will look vastly different.
We flew in from Urumqi after being again screened within an inch of our lives which by now has more of a calming effect as you realise with the current issues it is better for your safety to have everyone spend an hour being scanned, poked and prodded.
The flight was amazing. Snow-capped mountains, desert, rivers and lakes. Catching a cab proved to be a nightmare. For the first time since we have been in China the cab drivers were a bunch of rip off merchants. Now these were not Han Chinese but local Muslims trying to charge a 400% mark up on a cab ride. Eventually we found a reasonable but still overpriced individual to take us.
Kashgar is unlike anywhere else in China. The local Uighur people are Muslim and speak a Turkish dialect and they do not mix with the Han Chinese. Due to recent unrest the People’s Park square was full of armoured vehicles and police in riot gear. The police patrolled the streets in groups in full riot gear with dogs id checking and questioning local Uighur people. This show of force was not unusual to us and was of no real concern. The issue for me was the men.
I am by now very use to being stared at with Richard constantly referring to me as a ‘Freak Show’. The Indians were not staring by ogling rudely however the Chinese stare out of curiosity and never make me feel uncomfortable. In Kashgar the local Uighur men ogle rudely and make you feel very uncomfortable. Now this is not because I am wearing anything skimpy or showing any skin, I have long pants, a long sleeve shirt, hat and sunglasses on. Normally Richard is not concerned for my safety in China but in Kashgar he was back to his old habits of India, not letting me out of his sight and walking a few paces behind me.
This wariness was reinforced in the Bazaar when a pickpocket attempted to steal my wallet and was met with an angry women swinging a half full bottle of water at his head several times. Again not Han Chinese but Uighur.
The government is slowly pulling down all of the old town replacing it with fake new buildings or parks. It was lovely to wander the old streets and look at what is left of the old town. We saw butchers, blacksmiths and bakers. We managed a small glimpse of the old wall hidden behind buildings or gates.
The Livestock Markets were fascinating as the locals bought and sold livestock stuffing them into taxis, vans, trucks and their little three wheel utilities. The little utilities were used to transport goods and people all over town. If transporting people they had wooden boards covered in carpet attached to the tray rim for comfort and sometimes if you were lucky a guard to hold on to. This was not a legal form of transport so they tended to use backstreets to get around and avoid police.
The local bikes and mopeds were now adorned with carpets or macramé for seats. This extended to the cabs that had either carpet or beaded seat covers.
The roads were in a state of repair with loads of plastic plants making a nature strip down the middle. Everything was in Chinese and Arabic again so not only did I need a Chinese note to go places but I also needed it in Arabic too. We flew out of here back to Urumqi before heading to Xining.
We flew into Bishkek for our first taste of the Stan’s. We choose Kyrgyzstan as it is visa free for over 60 countries. We arrived to the usual customs and immigration scrutiny made funnier by the hats (large overexagerated service hats in khaki and green making their heads look really small). We flowed like sheep through the airport as nothing was in English.
After much negotiation we managed a ride into town, this was for half the 3 original quotes. They see western faces and immediately think money. We piled into a very dilapidated black cab and off we went. The worst part was when we stopped in traffic for any length of time exhaust fumes poured through the handbrake threatening to asphyxiate you.
We arrived not at our hostel but at the landmark they gave us the local Beta store. Our hostel was eventually found behind some shops in a dodgy dirt alley up a rickety set of wooden stairs. We checked in only to find we were staying in the new rooms 5 minutes walk down the road, above a bar, in an alley behind the Deli and Margarita hole in the wall shops. Our room had two power points in the bathroom and no window, fans or air-conditioning. As usual we never judge upfront and it was clean.
What we discovered about Bishkek was:
- Minibus is the popular mode of transport. These are numbered vans of all varieties that take people all over town. Stops are not marked you just all stand together and flag the right one down. There is a great app for this Bus.kg you can plug in your to and from and get all the details. It is in Russian but so is everything else.
- The other public transport is trolleys or electric buses
- This is where second hand cars go to die. Apparently they import them from elsewhere in all shapes and forms in particular old mercs. There is a huge car market on the main road into town.
- Black cabs abound here like China
- Police corruption can be so bad the locals have cameras with night vision hanging off their rear vision mirrors to record the police if they are stopped
- BP stands for Bishkek Petroleum
- KFC stands for Kyrgyz Fried Chicken
- There is an unmarked middle lane on the roads that is used to overtake and either side can use it.
- The biggest vehicle wins
- The main roads are bad but the others are really, really bad. Thanks to a drive into the countryside for 3 hours each way that was torture
- Our first sightings of fat bottomed sheep and actual lived in yurts
- They have real coffee and coffee shops here
- Richard hates hiking but loves Towers of Beer
- Osh Bazaar is a huge rabbit warren of shipping containers and the food section is a giant deli
- We need to come back and see more Stan’s
- Our Chinese is better than our Russian
We spent most of our time eating and drinking with the occasional walk around town. There is a great phone app called Bishkek Tours which has some great walking tours and attractions to see.
We discovered eventually that our room was not only above a bar but beside a Karoke Bar and we have a sneaking suspicion that the lady running it was renting out rooms by the hour some evenings. After one particularly loud evening ending in me yelling at her and whoever she was conversing loudly with at 1am we spoke to the hostel manager. The next two nights were eerily quiet. I must say it was not all her our fellow travellers at times were loud and inconsiderate even knocking on our room door at 6am while waking up the entire place to leave early on some excursion.
We flew out of here back to Urumqi after ourselves and our luggage were scanned and checked 5 times before boarding our plane. We landed to discover even more security in Urumqi due to a bombing that morning at the markets. From here we flew to Kashgar.
Another spectacular flight skirting the mountains of Xinjiang and Tibet province. You get some concept of just how huge the mountain range is as all you see is snowcapped mountains to the horizon for most of the flight with the plains appearing as you get almost to Urumqi.
Due to recent unrest security was very tight and after several scans and security passes we made it out of the airport. We took a taxi to our hostel which took a bit of finding and a phone call by the taxi driver. Our hostel was next to a shopping centre a bit like a David Jones but this one came complete with a tank and armed guards. Minimal English here everything comes in Chinese and Arabic neither of which I am good at.
We walked the streets, took the buses and the BRT (Bus Rapid Transport). Unfortunately due to the recent unrest night markets have been pretty much stopped but the street food we found was great and very muslim. We managed some blue skies which was great. This place is a real mixture of cultures and nationalities. The same raised roads but with the columns showing a more Arabic look with patterned tiles and the largest presence of armed police, tanks and armed vehicles we have seen in China so far. This included bag checking, scanning and explosive testing everywhere from shopping centres to parks.
We flew out of here to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan after being scanned several times including review by the bomb squad.
An 11 hour bus ride and we arrived at Pengfeng Village in the National Park. This is the longest bus ride so far and got to say I am not a fan and Richard is definitely not a fan. Chinese are not good to travel with in close proximity. They are very loud, like to have all the curtains drawn so you can’t see out the window, they leave the sound up loud on their phones or the play loud music with no headphones, they constantly hike up phlegm and spit. This topped with their inability to consider others and their space adds up to a not so fun journey. I understand that all of this is in built in their culture and I am even more understanding because they are always so lovely to us but after 11 hours it does try your patience, I won’t repeat any of the things Richard comes out with.
The National Park was worth it. 9 hours of buses and trekking had us exhausted but very satisfied with our trip. The most difficult part was on crowded sections where I could no longer stand doing the Chinese Penguin excused myself constantly and either weaved or parted people to get by. Not a place I would want to visit in peak season but fortunately most Chinese just catch the bus from site to site and avoid the walkways.
One bit did annoy us very much. When walking from our hotel and returning along the footpath we were herded by the Police down one section through the shops. Basically no one could bypass the shops and walk on that section of the footpath. This of course meant, that for us, there was no way in hell we were buying anything or even looking as I will not be party to such corruption. Most Chinese sites you cannot get to the good stuff without going through the shops or stalls but this version deliberately smacked of tourist corruption especially using police to cordon off the public footpath and not letting you walking on it.
We flew out of here after a 90 minute winding drive avoiding horses and yaks on the road. Chinese are terrible drivers. The airport was spectacular with stunning views of the snowcapped mountains. The flight even more so with rolling snowcapped mountains as far as the eye could see. We flew into Chengdu for a 6 hour layover until our flight to Urumqi
From Guiyang we hopped a flight to Chengdu. This flight was made fun by the pilot sitting across the aisle from Richard giving him a running commentary on our flight including the landing and what was wrong (must admit it was a lousy landing). He gave us some great insights on his views about Chinese women of marriageable age and how he would prefer a western girl as they were more independent and less needy. We caught our usual airport shuttle to town and walked to our hostel.
Chengdu is the capital of Panda Land. Panda stuff is everywhere. This city was touristified a while ago so this means shopping streets and malls, lots of parks and an ancient town tourist strip. Unfortunately this means minimal good street food vendors as they are regularly sent down the alleys by the police only to reappear 10 to 15 minutes later.
We took a minivan to the Pandas and Leshan. Unfortunately no baby pandas as they don’t appear for another 3 to 5 months. I had deliberately avoided the holiday so both were relatively easy to transverse but looking at the channels set up for crowds I would not want to be there in peak season. Apparently it can be a 2 to 3 hour wait to take the stairs down.
Chengdu do has the usual metro with only two lines at present but more to come. We were bussing out of here and as I was busy studying I sent Richard out to get tickets. Don’t worry, I programmed his google maps with the bus station, programmed his translator app with what he needed, I got a note from the staff at the hostel in Chinese and checked to make sure that all the counters were the same. He had no trouble and returned with two bus tickets.
A quick taxi ride with the driver even calling our hotel and laughing when he discovered he was less than 500 metres from it when he called. I knew but with no Chinese communication skills getting your message across in a hurry is hard. At least this one was called the right thing and on google maps. Again minimal English and a hotel as no hostels here. Also no westerners, we haven’t seen a westerner since Dali.
Richard has taken to saying hello in Chinese to everyone who stares at us and it is everyone, some of them even coming back for a second or third look and bringing their friends and family if we stop. We stop for several pictures a day. I am back to wearing my sunglasses and hat to hide.
We decided we would attempt the Huangguoshu Falls first. This was supposed to involve a bus to the site and back from the long distance bus station. Well it appears the bus station has moved to the new East bus station so our first attempt was a dud so we spent the day visiting the close by sites. We caught a local bus one way to the temple thinking we would just get it back the other way later. The return journey sent us miles out of our way to the terminal and then we caught another bus back, we are not sure of what route this bus was on but it really zigged and zagged crossing over itself. We later discovered the terminal was the new East bus station.
After our bad first attempt we spoke to the lovely reception staff using translator apps. They even offered to send a staff member with us. Declining we took their directions the next day. We took the local bus to the East bus station and using the trusty translator app we got tickets on a bus hopefully to the falls. We arrived and went to the ticket office.
We found a huge map on a wall and a heap of things listed with prices but no real directions. We purchased tickets and eventually figured out where the buses left from. After the 500 metre walk we discovered we also needed separate bus tickets. So back to the office we went trusty phone in hand. After returning we got on the bus, a whole bus to ourselves and started our journey.
5 hours later, much walking, several bus rides and an escalator and we had completed the circuit. Most of the time we had no idea where to go, how long it would take or what next. We took the bus home only to land right near the train station in a tiny bus station hidden behind in an alley near the train station.
This place is crazy on the horn honking more so then anywhere else so far in China. The streets are full of buses, taxis and slow little tractors. Lots of street junctions have no lights or give way signs and are a free for all when getting anywhere but the chaos appears to work for them with minimal delays. Accidents are a little different, everything stops so the Police can take out their tape measures and assess everything, nothing moves much until they are done and no one directs traffic.
We caught local buses to some other sites before getting a train back to Guiyang. Anshun also has automatic ticket machines with an English button so you can check details but you still need to go to the counter to purchase them.
This one was always going to be a challenge. After much research I had narrowed down the site of our hotel (there are no hostels here) to three possible locations all about 2.5 km from each other. I did have the address in Chinese but it had no street number but rather the name of a bridge.
On arriving at the airport we thought it best to take a taxi. He dropped us off at a shopping mall and pointed inside. Now it was likely that this may be our location but nothing was mentioned in the hotel details. So we walked inside and showed the man at the door our address and he pointed inside. Off we wander looking for signs. After 15 minutes we came to the indoor aquarium and the cinemas, we decided that as we had not seen a sign we were clearly not where we should be so outside we went.
On going outside we discovered the food street much to Richards delight but no hotel. Through the wet market we went attempting to go to one of the three locations I researched. A lovely Chinese gentlemen offered to help in his broken English and led us up the road where some lovely Police Officers offered their assistance as well, but they had no idea. We spotted a Hotel called Sails International Hotel, while we were looking for Yangfan International Hotel, but we thought we would go in and ask. You guessed it, this was our hotel. We never worked out why it had two names, one on the booking website and a different one at site, and as the staff spoke minimal English there was no point in asking. We discovered later if we had of kept walking past the cinemas for less than 50 metres we would have reached our hotel.
This hotel was in a perfect location for Richard he could eat at the Shopping Mall or on the food street.
Here we walked and caught the local buses to sights. We walked along the river only to get stuck as some sections had no stairs out but this led us to a great coffee shop called 66 Coffee. We did visit the park one day but with no English signs or maps a 1,000 acre park can be hard to get around. One journey up many, many stairs resulted in me coming face to face with a telephone tower and no view. At least Richard stopped half way or else he may have pushed me off the top.
From here we decided on a train to Anshun. The station was new with ticket machines that had an English button. After plugging in all the details I discovered you needed a Chinese ID card otherwise you have to go to the counter but at least I could check details, cost and number of seats available. Armed with my trusty phone, passports and a note with the train number etc I joined the cue. Trains are much cheaper here less than 3 dollars each for the 100km ride. The ride to Anshun was in a double decker train, clean but minimal luggage space.
We took a taxi to our hostel or as close as he could take us but I don’t think he knew where he was going, we walked the last kilometre. This place has mountains, lakes and an Ancient Town. We wandered the town, traipsed the pagodas and did a cooking class. We also spotted tuk tuks a sight we haven’t seen for a while.
We flew out of here by Yunnan Lucky Air and the way the Captain landed I think we were very lucky. This was another of those planes where the life jacket was your seat. These guys took us to Kunming where we got a China Express Airline flight to Guiyang.
We arrived and caught a taxi to our hostel. The hostel did not see many foreigners so English was minimal but nothing was too much trouble. Papa took us where ever we wanted to go in his car for no charge. This town lost 3/4 of its Ancient Town to fire in January but looking at the bits that remain it must have been fantastic. We had great fun catching the local bus, wandering the park complete with yaks, and touring the Monasteries.
This place has cute little three wheeled cars that usually come in red or green although I did spy a pink one. The streets come complete with tractors, trucks and carts. The square had traditional dancing every night. This place had a fantastic feel despite the cold. We came here to test ourselves in the altitude but the people here are so fantastic we wished we could have stayed longer.
We hopped a bus from here to Dali thinking it would be a 7 hour trip, it was only 5 hours, thank goodness because of the screaming baby and the vomiting bus sick passenger across the aisle, along with one really dodgy toilet.
We hopped an airport shuttle to town then wandered to Ancient Town through the road works stopping at a Coffee Shop where we got a taste of the tourist prices that were to come. Ancient Town is a giant tourist trap all prettied up in the usual Chinese way. After a little luck we found our hostel and were greeted by the friendly staff and a resident chicken. Ancient Town is overpriced and not the type of China we enjoy. The place is full of Chinese tour groups and their loud guides, this mixed with crazy prices did nothing for Richard and I.
I have wished to hike Tiger Leaping Gorge for ages but knowing my husband and his dislike for walking and stairs I had given up on the two day hike. We settled for a one day sneak peak. This involved a 2 to 3 hour bus ride, a few hours at the gorge and a bus ride home. The bus was comfortable but the habit of our driver talking on his phone while meandering along roads with no guard rails and a sheer drop did not instil us with confidence. We arrived safely and then preceded to become mountain goats as we trekked to the gorge and slinked along a very dodge wooden bridge and back up a nasty step ladder. The worst was the climb back up complete with Richard cheating and taking a horse for part of the way. I suppose it was better than being carried.
We took a bus from here to Shangri-La. It was a nice bus with wifi and minimal volume on the music, considering it was 5 hours this was good.
An airport shuttle saw us at a different hostel to our last visit. We even decided to find our way to the Stone Forest. This involved a taxi, a bus, notes and a translator app. After a bit of trouble negotiating the park we managed to visit the site. We ended up walking rather than seeing it the Chinese way, sitting in an electric cart trundling around the site never stopping until the circuit is completed. After elbowing our way to a seat on the bus home we arrived back at the enormous bus station. We ended up using google maps bus/public transport section to get home via local buses and a walk. This was due to an unlabelled Chinese note that I thought was the hostel address but was actually “take me to the airport”. Thank goodness the taxi driver wanted an outrageous price or it could have ended badly. Reminder to self ‘label your Chinese notes in English’.
We flew out of Kunming to Lijiang headed for Ancient Town knowing that this was going to be a difficult transit as the directions to the hostel were minimal and google maps only showed the big alleys not the small ones.
Arriving at Hong Kong airport we wandered off to find the airport shuttle to Causeway Bay. This was the easy part the next was where to get off. Fortunately the bus had wifi so we got to our stop and easily found our hostel. Hong Kong has trams, lots of traffic, metro and ferries.
The trams are skinny double deckers plastered with advertising that slowly meandered through the streets. The metro is large but easy to traverse especially with an app. Hong Kong has its own version of an Easycard which you can use all over the place.
The most confusing part in Hong Kong is walking. The British favoured one side and the Chinese another and this is not helped by escalators changing sides in a building or arrows on stairs being different in each place. Walking becomes a slow weaving as you try to traverse the streets changing sides with the pedestrian flow. Richard and I gave up and did whatever.
Hong Kong has an enormous escalator 800 metres long with 20 segments. This mixed with linked buildings means that you can walk from building to building undercover but be careful it is easy to get lost or misdirected and shopping centres can be enormous.
We also managed to catch the metro to the mainland (Shenzhen) for a lovely day with Richard’s friend CJ catching a bus back to Hong Kong. We much preferred Shenzhen. Hong Kong is rude, very western and expensive. Bec and I sat on the shore watching the skyline during Earth Hour and the only thing that happened was the nightly laser show was cancelled, very sad to see that the lights on the buildings did not go out or even reduce in number.
We flew from here back to Xiamen and then after a few days to Kunming as we headed to the mountains to test the altitude.
We decided to catch the BRT to our hostel. Xiamen’s BRT is a separate road so buses sit up high like a freeway just for them. The system is new so it has a few issues namely no English instructions. Armed with my trusty phone containing the address on an email in Chinese and a translator app I joined the cue to get tickets or in this case tokens. Hoping that I got it right we headed to the buses, unfortunately Richards token was a dud but one of the staff ran off and brought him back a new one. We piled on the bus Chinese style, walking like a penguin elbows out trying to get on first.
The next step was working out where to get off. After figuring out that each stop had signs with the name of the stop plus the previous and next stop we were a little more settled. Crammed into an overloaded bus we eventually reached our stop, piling out we walked down the stairs and faced our next obstacle, Old Town and it’s alleys. After one false start we found our hostel and all was good.
We had landed in a hostel smack in the middle of the wet market and food streets. You could see Richard salivating. Boots on we trekked through the markets and food stalls. We returned again after Hong Kong to continue eating and drinking.
We visited the island Gulang Yu by ferry, again requiring a bit of guess work and a translator app. We had by now mastered the getting on and off Chinese penguin walk. The island has no cars so we wandered all the way round on foot watch porters deliver goods on hand pulled carts. We found the local library, it was a very large vending machine.
We flew out of Xiamen to Hong Kong and back again. The airport was the first place I have seen toilets with plastic covers where you push a button before you sit down and the plastic on the seat rotates to a new clean section.
On our return we had decided to catch the airport bus into town. Our first attempt yielded nothing but after taking a picture of the route with my phone and pointing to the last stop we managed to get a bus. On arriving at our departure stop I knew we were not far but on asking an English speaking person, because my phone had run out of credit, we were told it was too far to walk so we caught a cab, it was less than 2 kms.
We flew to Fuzhou. Fuzhou is the capital of Fujian province and has close ties to Taiwan. This is noticeable in the buildings. This place has minimal tourist destinations so we were the only western faces. There are no hostels here so we stayed in a local Home Inn and were greeted by the local girl at the desk with “uh oh!!”. This translated as no one speaks English, hasty phone calls were made and a Manager appeared who spoke a little English.
The place is full of highways, tunnels and ninja bikes. The bikes use the footpaths to traverse the streets and they are very silent. We had fun wandering the streets catching a train to Xiamen from here. To get to the station our lovely reception staff personally took us to the taxi rank, we ended up sharing a taxi with a local who paid for our taxi and showed us into the train station, all with no English. Again we have to say thank you to the lovely Chinese people who go out of their way constantly to help us.
After an easy, if not crowded, Metro ride to Pudong Airport we got our flight to Taipei. After Immigration, Customs and sorting out some Taiwanese Dollars we headed for the buses armed with my usual instructions. We easily transited to the bus we needed and landed in the Nangang District of Taipei. After a false start we eventually headed in the right direction to our Hostel. We past many food places and our walk was slowed as Richard assessed his food options. We arrived checked in, did some housekeeping then Richard needed feeding.
After much food we decided we needed a beer and the Hostel staff sent us to the night markets. This required a bus ride. Richard and I avoid buses as there is usually no English and we have no idea where we are going. Armed with my usual pieces of Chinese paper off we set. Taipei buses come with English notices I also showed my note to the driver who let us know when our stop was. Getting to the night market was easy I was not so sure about getting home on the bus.
We prowled the markets and eventually located beer to help with the courage to brave the bus home. The bus home ended up being very easy and we alighted a couple of doors down from our hostel. Unfortunately it had been too easy so Richard had a new feeding ground.
The next day we purchased an EasyCard at the Metro station. This little card is wonderful, it works on all public transport, taxis, some tourist sites and in some convenience stores. You just swipe and go or swipe at the end of your bus ride. All stations and ticket areas have an ATM, EasyCard purchase and top up machines. Richard and I got very good at the Metro and buses before we left. There is also an Explore Taipei Metro App and Taipei Bus-English App if you are here for a while.
We had a wonderful Gondola ride up the mountain and back, several night market visits and saw some parks. Taipei is very easy to get around with many tourist options and lots of English. Every time we looked slightly lost or worried someone would ask if we were ok.
We stayed in two different places here. The May Rooms which was a family run place out in the suburbs a bit but on the Metro and bus line, the rooms were small but the Wifi was the best we have ever seen. The other was Holo Hostel which was in an office building our room was huge and a bit like a dormitory but chinese breakfast was included and it was right next to the Taipei Main Train station and Metro.
Taipei is China with more International influence, better English and lots of Hello Kitty. We caught the Metro to the second airport (Songshan) and hopped a plane back to China. Although the Taiwanese immigration official was not convinced about Richard due to his much darker colouring and lost weight, even chasing him into the Duty Free shop for a second look at his passport. Richard was very happy to show him his watch tan and give him other ID. All I could do was laugh both of us understanding the need for the official to be happy in the present climate.
After leaving our Hostel in Shanghai at 930am we were in Hangzhou by 1250pm. This had included
- A 20 minute walk to the metro
- A 30 minute metro ride
- A transfer walk to the train station
- A fast train ride
This included all the security and ticket buying.
We stood in the taxi line and the memories of Chinese taxi lines came flooding back including don’t bother trying to get a taxi anywhere between 4 and 6pm.
Hangzhou is like the Gold Coast for those from Shanghai. We arrived on a Thursday before the huge weekend influx by Saturday it was very crowded and crazy but lovely to see everyone outside enjoying themselves. My only concern was a Sunday train ride back so we headed to the train ticket office in town armed with my usual Chinese note. Ticket offices are not marked in English and our Chinese is almost non-existent but we managed thanks to Chinese patience and a willingness to help. Armed with two tickets we were all prepared.
After much walking and complaining from Richard we took a D train out of Hangzhou and back to Shanghai for an overnight stay before a flight to Taiwan.
The Chinese are such an organised bunch. So nice to be back in the clean. A quick and efficient Metro ride and a short walk, following excellent directions, to our hostel. Pavements to walk on bur we almost forgot to be mindful of the ninja bikes that make no sound, green walk lights and crossings have no meaning and to walk on the right. The traffic is almost silent compared to India.
It is amazing how easily we slotted ourselves back into Chinese life and the easy navigation of the Metros helped by the Explore Metro apps that work offline telling you how best to get to your destination and how much it costs.
Richard was in heaven, a hop on hop off bus so I couldn’t make him walk everywhere and food everywhere he turned. We loved the bund promenade, the crazy off ramps that go in circles like a car park exit road, massive four lane freeways, pedestrian streets and pedestrian over and underpasses.
We caught a K train called Harmony out of here to Hangzhou. The only problem was I got a little complacent and thought we would just go to the station and buy a ticket there. The station was bigger than most airports, these ticket and information machines had no English button and there were 10 different ticket areas with 15 or so counters all in Chinese. I don’t know how but we picked a line that looked like the Hangzhou characters and armed with passports and my translator app I stood in line. We had two tickets to Hangzhou in less than 15 minutes. Despite the ease at which we had accomplished our mission next time I will do a little more prep work.
After another overnight stay in Kalka and retrieving our bags we headed to Delhi by train to catch our flight at 3am to Shanghai. We got into Delhi about 5pm and thought we would go for a meal before deciding how we wanted to get to the airport. We rocked up to a local bar ordered some snacks and beers and settled in for a couple of hours.
After a feed and some liquid we had decided the Metro was our choice of transit thinking it was a 10 to 15 minute walk to the nearest Metro, one line change and then a direct Metro to Terminal 3. Thank God for the liquid to numb the pain that was about to come after all it is Delhi.
The walk was down Bazaar Road, a tourist strip full of touts, pedestrians, tuk tuks and cars making walking a chore. I have an advantage as my backpack is on my back so it acts as a buffer and a battering ram if needed. Richard wheels his so it gets caught up and has difficulty in uneven terrain. This lead us to a minor incident when an Indian gentlemen did not move for me when asked twice to “Excuse me please”. Needless to say I moved him out of my way using my body and my backpack. The gentlemen got a little angry and proceeded to follow me down the road unaware of Richard behind me watching him. Now an angry Indian gentlemen cursing, waving his arms and running after a white women is not seen very favourably in Delhi in the present climate. Richard had by this stage reached the gentlemen in question and reefed him by the scruff of the neck and asked him ” Are you right there?”, scaring the crap out of him. I had turned around and commenced walking back to find the gentlemen joined by his two friends, who were very apologetic, obviously realising that it would not end well for them if the authorities got involved. The gentlemen then proceeded to give me a verbal torrent which as you can imagine led to me in full flight, luckily his mates calmed him and I continued on my way to the Metro. Got to love Delhi? NOT!!!!!
We got to the Metro to find we had to go one stop change and then go one stop get off and buy another ticket as the Airport Metro is completely separate. After several security scans we arrived at the Airport Metro, clean but very expensive. We arrived at the Airport at 830pm for a 3am flight having left Kalka at 10am.
We sat in the Airport terminal entertained by travellers, particularly Indians, weighing their luggage then rearranging their goods between carry on and checked luggage to get their sums right. I saw one guy pay 20,000 Rupees (about AUD360) in excess baggage. At 1150pm we were allowed to check in. After getting rid of our bags, traversing Customs and then Immigration we made it to the gates, exhausted. Got to love China Eastern though, exit aisle and just the two of us no extra charge. So I managed some sleep on the plane the only downside waking me up then serving me Indian curry.
We walked to the station to catch our 4am train with Richard wondering why and me explaining that the daytime trains are booked out by the tourist guides who then cancel what they don’t need just before hand so getting the ritzy tourist train wasn’t happening without spending time at the station organising a ticket and I wanted to spend as much time as I could in Shimla.
The Kalka Shimla train is 96 km of small gauge railway that goes through 103 tunnels, one over 1km in length. This was the biggest toy train we had been on with first class even having a latrine. Richard slept most of the way rugged up in a jacket complaining about the cold and me opening the window to take photos of tunnels and 3 tiered viaducts.
We arrived in Shimla at 9am to a clear day with views of the snow-capped Himalayas and an uphill walk to find our hotel.
We were lucky our Kalka hotel had kindly let us leave our big bags behind so we only had overnight bags with us. Let us say that at altitude the stairs and sometimes 90 degree inclines can be a killer. After getting off track and finding a spot with a great view we located our hotel then went to wander and have lunch.
I had read about a two part lift from Mall road to Cart road and I thought we would take a look. I didn’t really know what I expected but it certainly wasn’t what we found. We paid our 10 rupee each and headed to the lift. The lifts are actually just that two lifts in towers to stop exposure to the elements. You take one then walk along the winding walkway to the other and press the down button. Richard and I felt a little cheated.
Shimla has made it’s self very pedestrian friendly by not allowing cars along most of Mall road and other shopping areas. They also have some walkways attached to the sides of the roads overhanging the buildings below. They also do not allow public smoking since 2010 with a 250 rupee fine. No spitting and a 5000 rupee fine for littering. Go Shimla!!
The porters here carry their loads strapped on their backs but the strap is across their chest rather than their forehead.
After many stairs and hills we caught the train back to Kalka the next day at 215pm.
We took a train out of Chandigarh to Kalka a quick 30 minute ride. The hilarious bit was the lady we got on late at Chandigarh and freaked out when she realised she was on the wrong train. She then pulled the Emergency Break, the train stopped in a hurry, she jumped off and the conductor reset the break with no one batting an eyelid. We took a flash A/C Chair car ride to Kalka with Richard complaining “why weren’t all our trains like this?” and “How come the really good ones are always a one hour or less trip?”
Kalka was a quick overnight stay for our 4am toy train ride up the mountain to Shimla. We were staying 400m from the train station in our usual budget accommodation.
The bus terminal was loud and chaotic and getting on a bus was a bit like placing a bet at the races for the first time. We managed to find our bus even though it was late and the two foreigners with prebooked tickets seemed to cause even further chaos which took 20 minutes to sort. There is nowhere for your luggage except inside racks or your seat so thank god we don’t have much. We found a spot where we could sit up front and have our bags next to us and hoped the bus never got crowded. The bus ride ended up taking 6 and a half hours instead of 5 but the driver sat in an enclosed compartment, you couldn’t see the front windscreen so the fear factor was greatly reduced. We stopped off at a few more interstate bus terminals along the way which were just as crazy.
One thing we did see on the way were crazy off road tuk tuks that looked like a Wolseley with 3 wheels. These tuk tuks had normal car tyres, extended fronts and backs. Have not seen them anywhere else in India and they were not in Chandigarh.
Chandigarh is a planned city built in the 50′ and 60’s and reminded us of Canberra, lots of roundabouts, good two and four lane roads and large green belts. It still has horse carts, cows and pedal rickshaws but the local buses are newish. It is also relatively clean by Indian standards. This place has lots of sculptures made from recycled materials in all major public areas. We stayed out near the bus stand and then caught a train out. We would have loved to have taken a car but the price quoted was on the ridiculous side and I had no time to go to the tourist office for a more believable quote.
Our hotel was fantastic upgrading us for no extra charge and settling us in very quickly so we could get some sleep. We decided to wander a little during the day and catch the border show that evening. Amritsar tuk tuks have bullbars and body armour, a first so far in India. I am not sure if it is because they are bad drivers and hit things or because the water buffalo are the size of small houses. The outside of the tuk tuks are covered in metal bars and some colourfully decorated. Pedal rickshaws abound and we discovered they are the best way to get across the road when faced with 4 lanes of craziness.
Horse carts make an appearance with wooden carts and truck tyres. The guys here stand up on their carts when empty and I even caught a guy on his phone trundling along the road. Some carts are piled high with wood or bananas and guys sitting on top of the load. Pedal rickshaws are also used to carry massive loads precariously strapped on.
The border show involved a taxi ride to cover most of the 30km then a 2km walk. The roads were lined with trucks either waiting to cross or stopping to eat after crossing. We saw lots of overloaded tuk tuks ferrying people to the show. We walked the road to the border passing vendors selling trinkets and popcorn. At one stage the Border guards moved us to the opposite to the Indians we discovered why when we saw a Guard on horseback shoving Indians into one line for security. After passing the first checkpoint we all merged again and then separated in to Men and Ladies for the usual pat down. From here we took the foreigners gate through more security to the final security post where we all stood in line till 415pm when the final security pat down occurred and we could be funnelled into the seating area. We were now 5 to 10 metres from the Pakistan border seated on concrete stairs awaiting the show to commence.
The Indians were dressed in red and khaki the Pakistan with a similar uniform but black and red. We watched the last bus for the day pass through the gates to Pakistan and then the craziness began. The crowd was whipped into a frenzy by the compere, the girls ran large Indian flags at the border gate and danced on the road Indian style. The Border Guards came out to pomp and ceremony marching to the gate in twos doing a high kick and then waiving their fists while one guying made sounds trying to be as loud for as long as possible competing against the other side. The Pakistan side was doing similar things but they also had a balcony. At the end came the flag lowering, some last minute high kicks and gestations and the gates were closed for the night. We then filed out and headed back up the road hoping we could find our driver and car especially since he didn’t speak English so I couldn’t call him. We found him and headed back to our hotel.
Interesting thing we did see on our driver were the statues on the houses. They weren’t on every house and varied from a huge bird with outstretched wings to a warrior on horseback to multi-coloured soccer balls. No sure why they were on the roof but we saw then all the way to Chandigarh
The next day we wandered the bazaars and alleys before heading to the Golden Temple and then we wandered back exhausted. Amritsar is lovely not just the sights but the people.